Punch and Clamp

I need to track more projects here and philosophize less! And as promised, here’s a project.

My tweeny daughter has aggression issues. And when I was her age I dealt with it by punching brick walls and cutting myself. Fortunately she asked for help in the form of a healthier outlet – a punching bag. I wish I had been able to talk to my own parents about mental problems.

So that’s what I got her. And I went official, UFC brand! Aww yeah. And no sissy 70# bag. No, this is the full 100! Which does limit hanging options, but I figured the I-beam in the basement that holds up the house should be strong enough.

And it also gave me a chance to use my bolt cutter – a tool I had purchased after a prior project involving chain segments. Previously, when I needed chain, I went to the hardware store and had an associate cut me off what I needed, which was an oddly awkward process to watch as they worked that pneumatic crank – equipment somewhat overkill for the rated chain I had selected. Now I can just have them cut one length, or better yet – buy a box pre-measured, and I cut to length on site. No lengthy store interactions, and no guesswork.

It’s also pretty manly to clamp through chain. Something about the raw power and strength of linked metal.

And so, some clamping and carabiners later, we had two sections of 250#-rated chain holding up a sand-filled stress-reliever.

By chance, the chain I selected was identical to what came with the bag.
That’s the appropriate look of anticipation.

It does shake the house a little bit, but I don’t think we’re in any danger of structural failure. A small price.

–Simon

Don’t Be a Goddamn Coward! – Pretzel Edition

I purchased food-grade poison. Technically, alcohol is just this. And also a toxin. Semantics are fun.

But in this case I refer to lye. Sodium hydroxide. I buy this every few years for clearing drains, heavy-duty cleaning, and disposing of bodies (there’s only so much room in my crawlspace).

Chemically speaking, lye denatures collagen, among other things. It also creates a highly exothermic reaction, especially when mixed with boiling water. It’s remarkably effective at liquefying human…stuff. It’s also the active ingredient in commercial drain cleaners. And purchased in its raw form, is cheap. An 8 pound bulk order would set me back about $30, though I had to find a distributor through some shady websites. This last time though, the prices were beyond silly. I know – “supply chains”, “labor shortages”, and “no one wants to work anymore”. But after some more digging, I found a new supplier for a reasonable price: Walmart Online. Go figure.

And it was only after it arrived that I discovered it was food-grade. This is in contrast to the usual technical-grade product I would normally get. The difference being, the latter has impurities that make it unfit for human consumption, which in the past translated to cheaper. But with this not the case anymore, I ended up with food-grade. Again, amusing in that it’s a poison.

But it’s not a poison in the sense that it disrupts metabolic functions. It’s a poison in that in sufficient concentrations it dissolves organic tissue. But properly diluted, its corrosive properties are minimized, and ideally suited to make flour dough brown and soft.

Which is why it’s traditionally been a key ingredient in pretzels. So no time like the present to experiment! After a couple attempts and reviewing numerous recipes, this is the combination I have determined ideal:

Recipe


Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.

Place parchment paper on a cookie sheet.


Slurry

  • 1.2 cups water, heated to ~115 degrees F.
  • 2 oz melted butter (Note: use quality butter here. I noticed certain budget brands (ahem, Costco) have diluted theirs. This resulted in my first attempted pretzels cracking from the increased internal steam pressure from the added water content. Unfortunately our American food labeling rules allow for some lying wiggle room estimation, so even the calorie count isn’t fool-proof. Pay extra and buy name brand. Go European – 82% butterfat content to be safe.)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar.
  • 2.5 teaspoons yeast (I use active dry as my go-to, and this worked fine).

Let yeast proof in the slurry while prepping the dry ingredients.


Dry

  • 2 teaspoons salt.
  • 22 oz (by weight) all purpose flour (most recipes specify this over bread flour, I think to avoid chewy pretzels).

Combine all ingredients and knead for ~10 minutes. Use your best judgment here. If you can’t figure this part out, then learn some more basic bread-making first.


The Poison

  • 4 cups cold water
  • 2 tablespoons lye

Proof

  • Proof the dough in a covered bowl for at least an hour. Again, this is a judgment call. See prior comment about gaining bread-making experience first.

Separate dough into 6 portions. I like this size. It’s like those big fluffy fair pretzels, except they’ll be softer because we’re using actual lye and not sissy boiled baking soda.

Shape dough. I went with the traditional string cross shape thing.

Dip dough for 10-15 seconds in lye solution. I used nitrile gloves for the added control. Also using gloves allows for some tactile sensory input. The dough will get noticeably gooey real quick. Place on parchment and repeat for each pretzel.

Sprinkle with salt. The salt will stick nicely to the treated dough. I prefer sea salt, but kosher will work. Personal preference here.

Bake for 14 minutes. This is oddly specific but does appear to hit the perfect spot.


My first attempt. See those cracks? Fuck you, Costco.

And there you have it. It’s somewhat laborious, but they beat out any pretzel I’ve ever purchased. I’m sure street vendors don’t use lye, and no form of chemical stabilizer magic can beat that fresh-from-the-oven texture. So don’t be a goddamn coward, and use some lye!

–Simon

The Need for Speed

During Covid lockdowns our internet was remarkably devoid of problems. No random outages, slowdowns, or hiccups. My theory is that ISPs wisely stepped back on their “network management” (what normal people call brazen violations of net neutrality) in order to avoid massive backlash with the country’s entire office worker and school childr base now dependent in full on network connectivity. Collapsing the American economy must have come up in some board meetings, with perhaps the conclusion that doing so wasn’t the best idea for longterm company financial goals. Whatever the rational, internet access was smooth.

Post-Covid, the shenanigans started to trickle in again. But by that point it was clear that my overall internet speed needed revisiting anyway. The increase in total devices started to eat into available bandwidth, even when idle. And high-bandwidth devices were growing increasingly hungry as accessible content was also growing in fidelity. So finally, I called our ISP for a tier increase.

Naturally, they were quick to take my money. What they neglected to tell me, however, was that they had already grandfathered my plan in to their new base tier. They also failed to mention my modem, which granted I own but they’re still able to see, was incapable of not only the grandfathered speed but also of course the new speed tier. My modem, which supported 100Mb/s, was already obsolete with the upgraded speed of 300Mb/s (which I didn’t know I had), nevermind being incapable of the new speed tier I had just signed up for of 500Mb/s.

I discovered this with a speed test and a quick search of my equipments’ stats. I needed a new modem.

My old modem, the Motorola SB6121, which had replaced a previous Motorola, had served quite faithfully for years. Enough so that, having owned at least 4 Motorola cable modems over the years, I had become brand loyal. However Motorola had since been acquired by ARRIS, so I purchased the ARRIS SB8200. This model supported 1Gb/s with dual gigabit ethernet ports for link aggregation. I was attempting to future-proof.

I also chose this model because it was explicitly listed on the supported modems by my ISP. I also discovered during this research that ISPs now require modem activation. I assume this is to curb stealing cable. That makes me wonder if someone spliced into my coax, could they have plugged in a modem? No doubt that would have caused some IP conflicts, but I guess it would have been possible. So the policy itself didn’t bother me in theory, but it turns out that this security measure would cause some other problems.

Mostly that the activation process failed. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have attempted a hardware upgrade on a Saturday night. Experience has taught me that tenured and/or high-performing customer service reps earn the best schedules, and no one’s going to want to work on a Saturday night, but after the automated activation failed, I didn’t have much choice but to ask for an agent. 6 hours later and I was struggling to get the old equipment running. Eventually I succeeded (but not before having to hard reset my router and do a complete network reconfiguration) and, figuring the modem to be at fault, sent it back. It was months before I attempted another upgrade.

Eventually, the irritation of paying for an internet plan I couldn’t fully use, along with some spousal nagging, build up my courage to try again. This time, I ordered the NETGEAR CM1100. Also a 2-port model, but this one supported 2Gb/s. Again-more future-proofing.

I called on a Thursday afternoon, before 5. Again I attempted the activation through the automated system. And again, I couldn’t get internet despite my router showing connectivity. So I called an agent.

The agent completed a manual activation, and within a few minutes, I was online with full speed. Wondering why the automated activations had failed, he informed me that the automated process is rarely successful. I assume then that the prior agent on my last attempt didn’t know this or simply didn’t bother to push through a manual activation, leaving me with the only remaining possibility that I had bad hardware.

Four months and two modems later, I finally have upgraded speed and I can at long last close this saga. Until the next time I need to upgrade. Because if I ever get beyond gigabit speed I’ll have to buy new switches and a router. So goes the tech race.

–Simon

U-Pick Apple Edition

More Liz U-Pick adventures. This time, for apples.

Haunted by childhood memories of picking up rotten wasp-covered apples, Liz has adamantly resisted “branching” our gardening interests into orchards. So instead, we visit commercial operations for fruit. Fine, I’m game. More character-building for the kid.

When I was a kid, we had two kinds of apples: red and green. These taste a lot better than the ones I remember.

She whined appropriately.

Character-building in progress

But I’m always up for a canning operation myself. Each year Liz makes applesauce, and while tasty, it’s hard to mix with bourbon. I wanted to try my hand at juice. A quick internet search revealed reliable extension-office guidance on safe canning (apple juice is oddly omitted from the usual booklets).

I quickly discovered why small farming operations stick to cider: pulp.

Yuck

So here’s the method:

  1. Run apples through juicer.
  2. Refrigerate resultant slurry overnight.
  3. Skim off the floating pulp.
  4. Pass remainder through chinois until nothing else filters out (4-5 passes).
  5. Bring juice to boil.
  6. As the juice heats up, more pulp will coagulate and float up. Skim this as it appears with a fine skimmer spoon.
  7. Once boiling, ladle juice through cheesecloth-lined funnel into jars and process according to current standards (as of the time of this writing, the accepted method is water-bath canning for 10 minutes).

Was this a pain to do? Absolutely. But, the results were a significant step up from grocery store juice. It actually tasted like apple, not sugar water! (Why must every processed good contain so much sweetener?)

It was almost a shame to mix with bourbon – almost

I’ll be adding this to our fall canning ritual. Highly recommended.

–Simon

Brisket

More smoked meat pics inbound. This time a brisket!

It follows, more or less, the same procedure as pork shoulder.

The main difference being the intramuscular fat content. I don’t think there was much advantage to wrapping it in foil for the collagen liquefaction stage. It didn’t give me a system purge, but was definitely too rich. I also don’t think it would have dried out, and needed that extra rending. And I left out all seasoning, save the initial brine, so as not to overwhelm the smoky taste (which I wouldn’t do for pork as it needs the added moisture and flavor).

So here we are:

Wood chips courtesy of the kid’s gift to me: Jack Daniels whisky barrel wood.

–Simon